LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Volunteer service is the "genius of the Church" and is reflected in the more than 26,000 LDS congregations scattered over the world — each led by men and women serving on a volunteer basis, President Gordon B. Hinckley told an international forum June 12.
"This same spirit, this work, reaches out to the elderly and brings a feeling of security, of usefulness, of service that brightens their lives and gives them a sense of making a great contribution," said President Hinckley in his address at the Los Angeles World Affairs Council. His address, delivered with warmth and humor, was heard by more than 2,000 people at the high-profile West Coast forum that includes world leaders as its speakers. It was an unprecedented third time that President Hinckley had been invited to speak at the gathering.
The event was attended by consuls general from Ecuador, Germany, Guatemala, Israel, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Croatia. Leaders from the local community also heard President Hinckley's remarks, including Los Angeles County Sheriff LeRoy Baca, Los Angeles Police Chief Martin Pomeroy, Rev. Leonard Jackson of the First AME Church of Los Angeles, Dr. Abdelmageed Ahmed of the Islamic Center of Southern California and Robert Ellenson from the American Jewish Committee. Mayors, city council members and many interfaith leaders also attended.
Following his remarks, which were frequently interrupted by applause and standing ovations, President Hinckley answered questions for another half hour.
The Church leader spoke of the 5,300 retired men and women currently serving as LDS missionaries around the world. These "mature" members are helping enrich the lives of others — as is the Church's Perpetual Education Fund that is educating and empowering faithful men and women to overcome poverty in developing nations.
President Hinckley said thousands of retired LDS folks are answering the satisfying call of full-time, voluntary missionary service. He recalled meeting two widows during a recent trip to Jamaica who were serving as missionaries and performing "a marvelous work."
"They said they were having the time of their lives," President Hinckley said. "They have found that they are needed. They have discovered they can help. They have learned that someone depends on them. They have come alive in their declining years. They love what they are doing."
These two women, President Hinckley said, are part of a growing corps of senior members who are contributing in myriad ways and at their own expense throughout the earth as missionaries.
"They go where they are called. They serve where they are needed. Friendships are being established, skills are being shared, opportunities are being opened for those who will never forget the men and women who have come among them in a spirit of entire unselfishness to teach and do good," he said.
To illustrate, President Hinckley spoke of two retired brothers, both doctors, who were using their medical skills as missionaries treating patients in Vietnam. He shared the experience of a retired Idaho potato farmer who accepted a mission call and enlisted his agricultural know-how to assist fellow potato farmers in Minsk, Belarus.
There are many volunteer groups doing a great service in the world, "but I know of no other organization which so harnesses the abilities, the capacities and the willingness of the retired men and women in an organized program of Christian service in many areas of the world," President Hinckley said.
The Church's legion of full-time senior missionaries includes retired medical doctors, educators, business executives "and the garden variety of ordinary good people," he added. These missionaries are concerned with others less fortunate and work to meet their needs.
President Hinckley also spoke of the Perpetual Emigration Fund that provided loans in the pioneer days of the Church to impoverished members in Europe and the British Isles who wanted to make a home in the Salt Lake Valley. The fund was, by and large, a tremendous success that brought the ancestors of the some of today's strongest LDS families to Zion, President Hinckley said.
The Perpetual Emigration Fund would provide the pattern used to create the Church's Perpetual Education Fund that was introduced by President Hinckley a year ago last April. The Perpetual Education Fund allows people to make voluntary contributions to an organization under which loans would be made to deserving young men and women from developing nations so they can acquire an education.
"Contributions have been received from a quarter of a million people, ranging from very small donations to donations in five figures," President Hinckley said.
More than 3,000 people have received loans needed to help finance educations and improve lives and families. Future education fund recipients will be trained in auto mechanics, banking, computer programming, hotel administration and several other trades and professions.
President Hinckley shared the experience of a young man who is among the beneficiaries of the Perpetual Education Fund:
"A boy from Mexico whose forebears have lived in poverty for generations will be enabled to rise out of that quagmire. He will become skilled. He will have good employment. He will marry and rear a family. He will go on and serve in positions of leadership in the Church. He and the generations after him will be blessed beyond measure and the Church of which he is a member will be assured of generations of strong and able leaders in that land."
The volunteer programs of the Church are striking "fire in the minds of the coming generation to walk out of the swamp of the past into a new day and a great future," President Hinckley concluded.